Editor’s note: Armed Forces Day is May 21 and was created as a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country. It was designed to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The event stemmed from the armed forces’ unification under one department – the Department of Defense.
By Bryan Gallegos
For the DC Herald
In commemoration for those who served bravely in the military, the Dunn County Herald will be running a monthly series on profiles of veterans, beginning next week.
This first article will serve as a prologue for the series and the types of stories we want to share. It was written several years ago by Bryan Gallegos. He met World War II Navy veteran Phil Trusheim by chance in Colorado. The two spent several hours together, talking about, among other things, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the capture of the German submarine, U-505.
Most teens spend their high school years learning about history. Phil Trusheim lived it.
He survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor when he was just 17 years old.
Two years later he helped capture the German submarine, U-505, the first time U.S. seamen boarded an enemy ship on the open seas since 1815.
Both were major events in the United States’ role in World War II. One hastened the United States’ presence in the war; the other helped end it.
Newspapers, magazines, history books and even motion pictures have documented both events.
But for the 83-year-old retired businessman, those events are deposited in a memory as sharp today as it was more than seven decades ago.
From the quiet ranch-style home he shares with his wife of about 42 years, Betsy, and their dog, Mia, almost every day Trusheim revisits those tragic yet glorious days in his life.
A 17-year-old Trusheim joined the Navy in 1941. Times were tough and the California kid figured the military was a good place to start his adult life.
Three months later, as bombs and bodies fell around him at Pearl Harbor, he would be questioning that decision.
Dec. 7, 1941
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and Trusheim was relaxing.
Soon, the morning air would be filled with Japanese airplanes dropping bombs. The airfield became a killing field. They bombed hangars and destroyed planes.
At a time in a boy’s life when most are thinking about running for student body president in high school, the boy with less than four months of military service under his belt was running for his life, thrust into war. And he was scared.
“You see bombs coming down. You don’t know where to run. You see planes getting blown up and you don’t know what to do or where to go,” whispered Trusheim.
He was assigned to man the emergency siren if there was a second wave. There was.
And when the attack was over, the Country’s debate whether to enter the war was silenced.
In late 1943, Trusheim was transferred to Miami for anti-submarine training. Teams were being formed to search and destroy German submarines.
Hitler’s U-boat forces were wreaking havoc on the high seas. In May 1944, Trusheim was assigned to the USS Pillsbury, part of a task group that included five destroyer escorts (Pope, Flaherty, Chatelain and the Jenks) and the escort carrier Guadalcanal.
The group sailed from Northfolk, Va., to hunt for submarines. Its destination was a known U – b o a t rendezvous area near the Canary Islands.
Over the next few months, the group sank a couple of U-boats. But the task group’s leader, Capt. Daniel V. Gallery, devised a plan to capture a U-boat. He said if the U-boat could be forced to surface, it might be possible to get some men aboard under certain conditions, Trusheim said. Such a prize would be valuable because of the equipment and documents on the Nazi sub.
Volunteer boarding parties were organized on each ship. Trusheim volunteered from the Pillsbury. Each party rehearsed the role it might play if such an opportunity presented itself.
“We didn’t think it would ever happen,” Trusheim admitted.
But on June 4, 1944, a quiet Sunday morning, it did.
The group sailed as far south as Freetown, Sierra Leone, and headed north for Casablanca. They were running out of fuel.
But about 150 miles off the coast of Rio De Oro, Africa, they encountered the German submarine U-505.
Shortly after 11 a.m. “11:09 to be Exact”
Trusheim was relaxing in his bunk when the call for battle stations pierced the dead air. Destroyer Chatelain reported sonar contact on an object about 800 yards away. It turned toward the object and prepared to attack.
Meanwhile, carrier Guadalcanal sent two “Wildcat” fighter planes over the area to have a look. The planes sighted the submerged U-boat and fired machine guns into the water to mark the submarine’s position.
The Chatelain moved in for the kill, launching a full pattern of depth charges that exploded in the water around the submarine. The explosions sent geysers of ocean water high into the air and an oil slick appeared on the surface.
Six minutes after the initial attack, U-505 was forced to surface.
This was the chance group leader Gallery was hoping for. The Chatelain, Pillsbury and Jenks, and the two planes opened fire on the vessel, but not to sink it, rather to keep her crew from manning the guns on deck.
“It w a s about 30 minutes of fighting. Everything happened so fast, you didn’t have time to be scared,” Trusheim said.
The Germans abandoned ship, leaping overboard into the treacherous and cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Pillsbury was closest to the U-boat, so the boarding party was ordered into action. Trusheim was among 12 men who boarded a whaleboat and made their way to the sinking sub. Trusheim piloted the whaleboat and got it close enough for nine men to board the disabled U-505.
The sub was completely deserted, but it was taking on water and sinking fast. Before jumping overboard, the Germans had left a valve open so the ship would sink.
Engineer’s Mate Zenon Lukosius found the cover to the open sea strainer and locked it into place, capping the leak.
“We had about five minutes before the ship would’ve sunk,” Trusheim said.
He kept the whaleboat close by just in case.
Only one German was killed in the attack. The other 49 were fished out of the ocean and placed on the Guadalcanal as prisoners of war. They were given a shower, dry clothes and a hot meal.
The boarding crews worked all day to secure the sub. When they returned to their ships, their Sunday meal was gone.
“All I got to eat that day was a bologna sandwich,” Trusheim chuckled.
However, he was awarded the Silver Star for his part in the sub’s capture.
The boarding party grabbed code books, charts, operating instructions, orders from German headquarters and the legendary Enigma code machine. Trusheim quickly transferred much of the material to one of the task group ships.
They secured the sub and began towing it to nearby Dakar, the nearest friendly port on the African coast. But German spies were known to be there and they would surely see the sub being towed to port. To avoid detection, Navy officials decided to tow U-505 about 2,500 miles to Bermuda. Officials feared the Germans would change their codes if they knew U-505 had been captured.
Secrecy was imperative. Every member of the group was told to keep mum about the capture until after the war. A breach would mean immediate court martial, Trusheim recalled.
” ‘We got it from the top.’ Galley said, ‘keep your bowels open and your mouths shut,’ ” chuckled Trusheim.
The Grand Prize
It was a major strike and one of the most valued prizes of the war. The U-505 gave the Allies the secret to the radio code used by the Germans in directing their U-boat operations.
Two days after the sub was captured, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. The importance of providing a continuous flow of reinforcements, food and supplies safe from U-boat attacks, was more vital than ever, once Allied forces had been committed to the mainland of Europe.
As for U-505, she sits in a museum in Chicago. Once considered the terror of the high seas, her home is now the Museum of Science and Industry where thousands board the display every year.
It’s a piece of living history, just like Trusheim.